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Grilling: Food Preparation and Toxicity: 2024

Thrive Carolinas / Health Hints  / Grilling: Food Preparation and Toxicity: 2024

Grilling: Food Preparation and Toxicity: 2024

There is a lot more attention paid to our food sources and the type of food we eat.

We recognize the importance of organic, minimally processed foods and their roles in health and disease prevention. It turns out that how we cook these foods plays an equally important role. When the weather is favorable, many cook meals on our outdoor grill. While small amounts of grilling are acceptable, research has suggested that meats may form carcinogenic chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) when charred or cooked over high heat.

Epidemiologic studies have linked cooking meats at high temperatures with an increased risk of pancreatic, prostate, stomach, and colorectal cancers. The culprits associated with this risk may be these heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCAs form when animal proteins are cooked with high heat, typically above 428 degrees F; they can also occur when roasting meat for a long time or pan-frying at elevated temperatures.

PAHs are created when fat and juices from meats drip onto charcoal or open flames, causing smoke and flares. They can also appear when smoking, frying, or deep-frying.

 Animal studies have shown these chemicals can damage DNA, lead to free radicals, and potentially increase the risk of cancers.

While these studies were conducted on animals, there is enough evidence to suggest that the same risks are present in humans. HCAs are associated with an increase in breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, and prostate cancers.

HCAs are formed when amino acids and creatine react at high temperatures. When they combine, they form heterocyclic amines or HCAs. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from the meat are grilled over a heated surface or open flame drip onto the surface or fire, causing the production of smoke. The smoke containing the PAHs then adheres to the surface of the meat. The same process can occur in the smoking of meats.

Don’t worry; there is no reason to toss the grill or cancel your cookout.

Small amounts of grilled meat are fine to consume, and there are steps you can take to improve the healthfulness of the meat.

  1. As always,, buy organic meats and avoid processed meats. When using red meat, always buy grass-fed organic. It is best to pick leaner cuts so less fat drips and forms carcinogenic smoke or PAHs.
  2. Microwaving the meat for 2 minutes before putting it on the grill can reduce the production of HCAs by 90%.
  3. While HCAs can form on any meat, seafood, and chicken, they appear to be formless. Grilled vegetables do not form HCAs or PAHs, so consider adding some plants to your grill.
  4. Marinating meats for at least 30 minutes or longer appears to reduce the formation of PAHs and HCAs. In fact, marinating meats for 2 hours reduces the formation of HCAs by 92-99%. Adding spices, herbs, and citrus to the marinades provides antioxidants, which reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs when the meat is cooked. Marinate meat (beef, pork, chicken) for at least 2 hours and seafood and vegetables for one hour.
  5. Flip meats often so they do not get charred. Avoid overcooked or well-done meats.
  6. Serve the grilled meats with extra servings of fruits and vegetables to add antioxidants to the meal.
  7. Grilling with gas does appear to be the safer option. While charcoal grills infuse smoky flavors into meats, gas grills make it easier to maintain a steady temperature and avoid charring.
  8. Keep your grill clean. This will help prevent food-borne illnesses and prevent you from adding charred pieces from previous meals to your food.


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